My favourite town in Thailand is in the news today for all the wrong reasons. A terrorist attack in this quiet, respectable, tourist town, two hours from Bangkok, has left one local street-seller dead and about ten wounded, some seriously. Of all the places I expected to be attacked in Thailand, Hua Hin is the last place I would have picked.
No one has claimed responsibility yet (12/08/2016) but it is being assumed that the terrorists are from the South of the country bordering on Malaysia where a group of insurgents has been causing problems for the past decade. Bombs and killings (usually of policemen) have almost attained normalcy there, but the terrorists had not moved further north, nor had they even ventured into the hot-spots of Phuket or Pattaya.
The latter two I fully expected to be hit after Bali. Pattaya is a town of somewhat sleazy hedonism, and it has often been thought that the more disapproving members of society might one day be tempted to release a bomb there. Likewise, Patong in Phuket, another place of girlie bars, ladyboy bars, and a place where drunkenness is tolerated, was a town that could be considered in the same way.
But Hua Hin, the favourite resort of the Thai royal family whose Palace along the seafront brings the royals to the town on many occasions, a place which is regarded as a resort for the more mature holidaymaker, and one that is home to many Europeans and Americans who have retired there to take advantage of the seven superb golf clubs in the town? Never. And Hua Hin has much to offer.
The world is changing fast nowadays. Old certainties have gone and personal safety is now a worry for everyone. But I hope that I, and all the others who love Thailand and the lovely old town of Hua Hin, can continue to visit it and enjoy the friendliness, the hospitality and the very Thai way of doing things.
Terrorism will be defeated in the end. It may take time, but we must not let it alter our way of life. I, for one, certainly won’t allow it to alter mine and I hope to spend my next long-haul holiday in what is, still, the safest country to visit , bar none.
A few of my favourite images from over the years seem to fit the Morning Challenge so here they are. It’s amazing how some places never change, and how they still attract customers to these old-fashioned deck-chairs.
Mornings in Thailand
Making Merit at Dawn in Chiang Rai, Thailand – Mari Nicholson
It’s 6.30 a.m. and the cafe owner is setting out the deck-chairs for the day ahead. An old-fashioned beach in Hua Hin. Thailand
Cows are permitted to access the beach before 8 a.m. in Pranburi Province, Thailand – Mari Nicholson
It’s a grey morning and the catch doesnt appear too good
Fifteen years ago only a few intrepid travellers were aware of the wonders of Thailand. Last year over twelve million visitors came to enjoy this amazing country. With people who actually do smile all the time, and mean it, beaches that are invariably powdery white, waters that range from turquoise to a limpid blue, a mean average temperature of 280 , and one of the finest cuisines in the world, it is easy to understand the attraction. Nor should the safety factor be overlooked, either. With a population that is 98% Buddhist, religious conflict is virtually nil in this country of gentle, courteous people.
Bangkok is Noisy but the Chao Phraya River is Tranquil
No one would call present day Bangkok a paradise, but this modern metropolis was once known as the Venice of the East, a city built on canals which meandered through the capital and out into the countryside. Most of these have now been filled in, but the magnificent Chao Praya River with its traffic of tugs, rice barges, and house-boats, still runs through its centre, lined by stunning hotels like the Oriental, Peninsula, and Sheraton Towers.
Hire a boat and a boatman from your hotel’s landing stage for a visit to the temples and palaces, most of which are on the river, and you need never step into Bangkok’s noisy streets. It’s a relaxing way to see the City of Angels (Bangkok’s former name): sunrise over the Temple of Dawn, viewed from the boat, is an incredible sight.
Beaches and Islands – Where to find the best
If its beaches you’re after, there’s the peace and tranquillity of the resorts on the Andaman Sea where you can cruise around the extraordinary 40-odd limestone karsts thrusting out of the sea in this totally surreal landscape (recognisable from The Man with the Golden Gun which was filmed here), picnic on a sandbank or deserted island, or head off into the Marine National Park for some of the finest diving in the world. If you choose to stay in a hotel, the most exclusive has not one, but three beaches surrounding it as well as an infinity pool.
The best known of Thailand’s islands is, of course, Phuket, whose coastline hides bays of the sort of shimmering sands lapped by turquoise seas you see in publicity pictures – Karon, Kata, Nai Harn, Pansea, Bang Tao and the National Park beach of Mai Khao. Pick any one of these and you’ll find exclusive, world class hotels to cosset and pamper you. If you want brash and noisy, then head for Patong Bay, easy to reach for an evenings entertainment.
Phuket is subject to monsoons but when it is raining there, the weather is fine in Ko Samuii (and vice versa) an island fast moving from backpackers hideaway to an upmarket resort with a laid-back atmosphere.
On the mainland, the resorts of Hua-Hin (where the Thai royal family have their summer palace) and Cha’am, attracts the more mature traveller for its great shopping and good restaurants. And don’t dismiss Pattaya, known mostly for its girlie-bars, nightclubs, and massage parlours: it has one of the world’s great hotels right on the edge of town which many people check into and leave without once setting foot outside it, their entire vacation having been spent luxuriating in one of the Royal Suites.
Go North and visit the Hill Tribes
Even great beaches can bore after days of perfect weather, and this is a good excuse to visit the hill tribes and enjoy the northern culture of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. Home to some of the most colourful tribal people in the world, the Akha, Meo, Leo, Hmong, Karen, Lisu and the long-necked Paduang, the velvety green mountains hiding rare orchids and other flora, is a startling contrast to the south of the country. There are opportunities to join elephant rides into the jungle or to trek to remote villages to meet the hill tribe people. For a more hands-on activity you can hire a 4WD (with or without driver) so that you can navigate the steep mountain roads and tracks, drift up the Pai River from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai on a bamboo raft, visit the border town of Mai Sai and cross into Myanmar (Burma) for a few hours, then visit the strange town of Theod Thai to talk with the remnants of Chiang Kai Chek’s Nationalist Army that settled here after escaping from China.
Thailand is not just another country, it’s another way of life, guaranteed to de-stress even the most overworked executive. After all, a country that has but one word for both work and pleasure, sanuk, has to be something special.
People often ask what is my favourite town or city in Thailand. The answer is easy, it is Hua Hin, a once quiet fishing village on the Gulf of Siam, two hours drive from Bangkok, and a world away from the bustle and noise of the capital city. Mind you, Bangkok is up there with the favourites as well, but it is the capital city after all, and all capital cities are deserving of their popularity.
I have been visiting Hua Hin for about 25 years now, stopping off on every holiday to recharge my batteries in the peace and tranquillity of one of the hotels just outside the town. For the last twenty years, that hotel has been the Dusit Thani Hua Hin, a 5-star establishment that attracts guests from far and wide, but it also pleases the Thai people because come the week-end, they flock to it for the great food (especially the Saturday night barbecue), the delightful seaside setting, and the chance to go horse-riding at dawn on the beach (the only hotel at which this is available).
Today’s Hua Hin owes much of its popularity to the fact that many people discovered it only after the tsunami that devastated the southern beaches of Phi Phi, Phuket, Kao Lak etc. Before the tsunami it could be said that the fishing village atmosphere was very evident, but today, the little fishing harbour is being crowded by the shops, restaurants, and tailors that line the roads leading to the sea.
Most of the major hotel chains have a presence here – Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott, Aleena, Sofitel, and of course, the only already mentioned, Dusit Thani. I choose Dusit Thani because it is a purely Thai owned hotel with service and attention to detail that reflects the Thai ideal of hospitality. All these hotels have excellent restaurants but Hua Hin itself must be one of the best towns in which to find food from every nation. As well as Thai restaurants, of which there are many, there are Chinese, French, German, Indian, Italian, Korean, Swiss, Japansese, Vietnamese, American and European/Mediterranean fusion.
With the growth of a well-heeled retirement colony in the town, bakeries have sprung up as well as cheese and meat importers. Fresh vegetables can be purchased daily at the local market, or there is a Tesco/Lotus supermarket for those who feel the need for packaged veggies and air-conditioned stores.
Hua Hin is one of the most popular spots to which people want to retire as the climate is never too hot or too humid, unlike say Phuket or the islands in the south. It is also within easy distance of Bangkok, there is a good transport network, and perhaps most important of all, there are six championship golf courses in the area.
I cannot recommend the town too much. For me it is the perfect place for a holiday.